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Railroad tracks to be pulled up in El Dorado County?

Plan calls for replacing current rail lines with trails
By: Eric Laughlin, Telegraph correspondent
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El Dorado County supervisors have renewed their support for a plan that would convert rails to trails on the 18-mile stretch of railway from Folsom to Shingle Springs, while preserving track for excursion train use on the remaining nine miles to Placerville. The vote to move forward with the so-called “Shingle Compromise,” followed hours of debate from two very passionate groups. Trail backers argue that salvaging the valuable, mostly-inactive rails will pay for a trail, while train enthusiasts counter that the track will boost the regional economy with an excursion train. The Shingle Compromise was first adopted by the supervisors in March and prioritized the 18-mile stretch as a multi-use trail for hiking, biking and equestrian use. The remaining track from Shingle Springs to Placerville would remain untouched as part of the plan, and salvaged track of the “highest quality” would be used to improve rail infrastructure along the preserved section. Such a transformation would be made under the 1976 Rails to Trails Act, which allows local government entities the right to make trail use out of former railroad lines, though only on a temporary basis. The railroad companies could, under the law, reclaim the property when it becomes economically viable to re-establish train use. El Dorado and Sacramento counties, in addition to Folsom and Regional Transit, all make up a Joint Powers Authority, which owns rights to the railbed. According to the law, the JPA would have to sign off on El Dorado County’s proposal to pull up the track. Part of last week’s vote included a motion to draft a formal written request to the JPA. Philip Rose heads up the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad, a non-profit excursion line that has for 10 months been running a one-car passenger train up a five mile stretch from Folsom. The effort is permitted by the JPA through a five-year licensing agreement. Rose, who hopes to extend his train service up the hill and into Placerville, said he was disappointed by the supervisors’ vote. He said he doesn’t believe the tracks would, as specified in the compromise, pay for trail and that the railbeds would succumb to winter weather. “By the time they’ve pulled the track up and paid for prevailing wages, there won’t be much left,” he said. “And once they’re removed and the first winter comes, they’ll degrade and become unusable.” Rose has argued that there’s room for both rails and trails and that there’s historical and economic value in keeping the rails. “Once you pull them out, they’re gone forever,” he added. “By having an excursion train, we will bring more money to the county.” But Mike Kennison and other Friends of the El Dorado Trail group take on a whole different position. He questioned the feasibility of Rose and others running a profitable excursion train running longer than the nine miles included in the compromise. Kennison said Rose and others haven’t made much progress in 15 years because excursion trains are too costly to operate. “Why do you think there are only a handful of self-funded excursion trains that run longer than six miles?” he asked. “Most successful long run trains are either backed by government money or they are part of a working commercial railroad. “The beauty is that they’re going to get plenty of track to do what they want to do,” he added. But Rose said his organization has recently garnered steam with investors and that he believes more will come along once the issue is no longer up in the air. In addition to their decision to draft a written request to the JPA, the supervisors also voted to create a corridor advisory committee to be made up of residents from both sides of the issue. The board will also receive an update as to more specifics of the Shingle Compromise at a meeting next month.